Did I Do That? The FINALLY Finale

Did I Do That? The FINALLY Finale

So maybe you noticed my hiatus the last few days. Or maybe you didn’t and this post is a welcome surprise. Who knows? But I, the prodigal blogger who breaks promises, is back with exciting news. Welcome to the last entry on Dragon Age: Origins!

It took a lot of time that I would have rather spent napping after work and willpower to not sit and play all of the adventure games and recent handheld installments that have entered my life recently. Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew are staring at me as I write this while my 3DS and Vita are charging on my desk.

The last two quests of the game felt like a reward for any repetition I had suffered before. I came across an investigation mission in the Alienage in Denerim where my character is from. I had to look for clues into strange happenings in my hometown–the only bummer being most of the clues were sick and feral dogs.

The Landsmeet turned out to be an honest-to-goodness debate, not just a cutscene. I actually lost the first time I played through it because I had not garnered enough support. Depending on my choices during the main quests and which side quests I played through determined my number of supporters. The deciding vote is given by Anora, Loghain’s daughter, who ended up double-crossing me. I didn’t trust her enough to willingly give her the throne, so she came out in favor of Daddy dearest; her opinion swayed the crowd. Turns out I needed to finish doing the bidding of the Crows, Ferelden’s resident clan of assassins. This let me have the one more vote I needed to win without Anora’s support. Dastardly deeds win all fantastic political dilemmas.

After this was one of my last chances to finish up what I needed to do in the world. This is where I clammed up. I was suddenly faced with the weight of all of the meaningless tasks left in my journal, afraid I would never collect all of the garnets the sketchy bartender needed before I went off to decide the fate of the entire region. I think I backed up my final pre-finale save three different times making sure I could go back when I felt the urge.

Let me say I have never been more glad for how the game even distributes experience. For the first and only time, all of your party members have to play. After the initial fight, you choose who you want to go fight the archdemon directly and who stays behind. Surprise, surprise though. After I took Alistair and both of my mages with healing powers with me through the castle, I had to fight a battle with my (wo)men left behind; am I glad that I stocked up on potions. Even more glad that I found more in the castle once I returned to the party I thought I’d be fighting with the entire time.

Really though, despite my best intentions, I played favorites more often than not throughout the game. Whenever possible, I brought Morrigan and Wynne with me, relying on magic for everything. Choosing a rogue definitely presented me with the challenge I hoped for. Though happy to consistently have an expert lock-picker in my party, I wasn’t good for much else that another class couldn’t have taken care of and still had other useful skills. This left me less-than-knowledgeable when fighting with a warrior or anyone who wasn’t my main character or a mage. Sheer brute force won the fight for me, but it was not my proudest battle.

Who would’ve thought my party camp was housing the next disillusioned killer? Sandal, the resident enchanter and adopted son of the merchant, was standing in a room at Fort Drakon littered with darkspawn bodies; all he does is smile. I try to ask him what happened, but he just says, “Enchantment!” with the same goofy smile on his face like always. Why couldn’t I recruit him to my party? Massive backpack for an inventory, endless enchanted weapons, and a slaughtering machine.

In case the abrupt access to a store wasn’t clue enough, this was my last stop before my encounter with the archdemon. This battle was a challenge, but not the one I was expecting. I got into more trouble with random encounters on my way to the rooftops than I ever did with the final battle. After only two tries, I saved Ferelden and stabbed the archdemon with only the sacrifice of Alistair’s virginity. I’ll spare you the details.

Once all was said and done, I got to speak to all of my party members and greet my adoring fans. A bunch a text flew by tying up loose ends and making me feel guilty for every choice I made. Roll credits.

So thanks to everyone who stayed with me through this entire journey. Now off to new and exciting adventures! Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 15

Did I Do That? Part 15

The Brecilian Forest is a breath of fresh air and just because most of the Nature of the Beast questline takes place outside.

I never want to say that games need to be shorter. Too often a game might not have enough content to be worth the standard $60. Or worse, all of the price justification is in the multiplayer mode which does not cater to me at all. Granted most of the games I play on here I have gotten on sale so I have no complaints, but those who buy at regular price, you want a lot of content. Sometimes that game has to last you months. I know I sucked all of the life out of games growing up and in college. I borrowed Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga from a friend in middle school and beat it approximately fourteen times.

But if you’ve been following my progress through Dragon Age: Origins, you know I vacillate between intrigue and fatigue. I become enamored with a new area but get exhausted after trekking through similar tunnels, caves, and magical lands for hours on end without any convenient way to take a break from the monotony. This final push to collect enough allies to take on Loghain was the most balanced main quest I have done so far. You start off going through two sections of the forest looking for information about the werewolf curse and searching for Witherfang all upon Zathrian’s request. The two areas are just big enough that it feels like the wild but not so large that you can’t backtrack back to camp or leave the Dalish elves behind entirely if you want. For example, a few sidequests I had to do were out in the forest, and I wanted my reward sooner than later. After killing some bandits and looking at some tombstones, I was able to leave the forest and go to other parts of Ferelden for some gold and equipment. At the same time, I didn’t do this more than a couple of times because I wasn’t tired of the trek yet.

After you battle through the woods, you get to a set of ruins—but once again only two separate areas. And am I damn glad for that. There are multiple loot holes full of gems and silver to sell. Finding one topped my inventory off, and with this area’s set-up, it was not a ridiculous idea still to back out and sell off my goods. And still nothing here took me too long. After finding the Lady of the Forest, I thought I was going to have to go back to camp to find Zathrian to fulfill her request, making what I did only a small leg of the journey. I can’t say how many times in Orzammar I thought the campaign for king was almost over when they through a new area or task or favor at me. But in a twist in both gameplay and story, he was there waiting for me despite not claiming to know anything about these ruins and where to find the Lady of the Forest and Witherfang.

After bring him back with me, the quest concludes with a battle. No loose ends. No final requests. Nada. Taking out the extra wandering and backtracking I did by my own choice, I think this quest took me five hours tops. This is radically different from past ones where you hit double-digit hours even if you blitz right through. And as you might be able to tell already, my two problems with the Circle of Magi and Orzammar quests are:

  1. Repetitive and similar areas.
  2. Overstay their welcome.

The first complaint is definitely hard to work around. When playing in the underground city of the dwarves, it doesn’t make narrative sense to have anything look too different from other areas. But this shows it is possible in some cases. I can play around outside and then enter the ominous and wrecked structure that houses the werewolves. As for the length, there is no reason that all of the quests needed to be as exhaustive as they were. I am all for their attempt to show and not tell the story by forcing you to infinitely chase what you are looking for instead of merely being told about it. Instead of finding Branka earlier in the caverns, you must keep delving deeper because that’s what she did in her desperation to find the Anvil of the Void. Following her step for step gives you an idea of how far she was willing to travel for what she wanted—something much more meaningful than a Codex entry. I just wish it could have been more interesting. The conversations and choices between Zathrian and the Lady of the Forest made as much of an impact with a complex dialogue set.

Hey, at least I can applaud Bioware’s attempt and willingness to tell the story using a multitude of different strategies. Now off to the Landsmeet with all of my new allies. Stay tuned.

Confessions of a Target Avenger

Confessions of a Target Avenger

Prepare for a largely anecdotal blog post.

But first, business business business.

If you didn’t notice, I chose not to write this weekend. Besides celebrating a birthday, I got my first promotion at work, meaning a lot less free time than I was expecting. There is a lot of after-hours learning needed. This influx of overtime means that the weekends are when I have the most time to play. Being my own boss, I’m modifying my November plan. Where last year it might have killed me not to stick to the mission, now I know it’s not the end of the world. For personal reasons, I am proud of my ability not to get too anxious over this.

Now for the cutthroat events of this past weekend. I have been debating buying a PS Vita for a long time and decided to go ahead and do it before I start all of my holiday traveling. I got to Target, and there was only one, the same one that had been there all week. The electronics associate had stepped out so the manager paged him for me. I was hovering in the Sony aisle when another couple of people showed up and beat me to the employee by .57 seconds, asking for the same thing. I was huffing and puffing and ready to blow the whole store down.

While waiting at the counter to see if any of the other Targets had one–a silly formality since I was just going to go five minutes away to Wal-mart–the manager who I talked to first said that I was the one who called for it. The poor associate looked like a dog choosing between its heartworm pill and a bath. Lucky for me I got to take it home to ponder what games to buy for five hours. Of course I went from livid to guilty in those few minutes at the store. At least I can console myself with its big, beautiful screen.

Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 14

Did I Do That? Part 14

I hate politics, but I am a political mastermind.

Actually, I just really like gold. Right now I have the questlines to support both Harrowmont and Bhelen running concurrently. Even better, neither of them know that they are both asking me to do the exact same thing.

After their initial quests that did differ greatly—Harrowmont required the Proving Grounds, Bhelen required part of the Deep Roads—they start asking you to go to the same places. When I decided to back Bhelen, he wanted me to go clear out Jarvia who led the huge crime ring in Orzammar. You had to ask around the less-than-reputable part of the city, Dust Town, for information about where to find her base of operation. Nobody wanted to talk, saying she was everywhere, but I finally found Roggar who was willing to help. He told me about a small coin that unlocked the bandits’ headquarters. This triggered the appearance of a small, abandoned house where I can either intimidate or kill some of her thugs into giving me the Finger-Bone Token so that I have access. While at Jarvia’s homebase—Carta’s Hideout–I found an item called Incriminating Evidence.

Then I took Oghren with me to look for finding the city’s only living Paragon—a living ancestor that the dwarves revere–named Branka in the Ortan Thaig at Bhelen’s request and found proof that [hmmm?]. After lots of spider-stabbing and dying, I found proof that she had travelled further into the Deep Roads because why not drag this one quest out even longer? Luckily the way the map is set up, I was able to go back to the main area of Orzammar and follow up on some sidequests and sell items I didn’t need anymore, freeing up some valuable treasure hunting space in my inventory.

While taking my breather from the less-civilized world, I wandered into the Tapster’s Tavern and found Dulin. He was disappointed that I had decided to side with Bhelen instead. Luckily my Coercion skill was high enough to make him believe otherwise. From this point on, I have been able to do both quests. Both want me to focus on finding Branka. Neither of them even want me to do anything different when I find her. My journal even has the quest “Paragon of Her Kind” twice with the same description. I really hope I can keep convincing both of them of my allegiance though. It has definitely helped cut down on the number of fanatic supporters who try to kill me when walking down the street.

I’ll let you know if this wheeling and dealing keeps working for me. Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 13

Did I Do That? Part 13

I kid you not: the only information I found about the enemy AI is how to fix it.

Considering the game has been out for five years now with a wonderful PC version (I’ve experienced next to no problems with the exception of the occasional crash), it only seems right that it has a thriving modding community. This is an area I have no experience with, so I am not going to pretend to be an expert; enemy AI is mainly mentioned with modders though.

When looking for information that is found in the actual game, all I found were reports of bugs but nothing detailed about why the enemies make the choices that they do. There was nothing that meta-gamers extrapolated and figured out as a guide to enemy AI (or I just didn’t see it. Feel free to let me know if it exists!) All I really found were thousands of threads discussing the enemy’s programming and how to make it better. Granted I do not fall in the majority of people I found who were looking for more of a challenge. One of the main complaints is what I pointed out earlier—that most enemies have no sense of self-preservation; the only class that tries to heal itself are mages. For those who are stellar at the game’s combat, this definitely takes the difficulty down a notch. There is a Nightmare-Plus mod (link?) that adds to the variety of enemy attacks and boosts.

What I would want is a mod that added more information to my codex. I want to be able to analyze my enemy as if it were a JRPG. I have played so many turn-based RPGs—most recently Bravely Default—and the depth I get out of the game has to do with being able to hone in on who I am fighting. I sit there and learn their strengths and weaknesses, attack patterns, and breaking points. Because of the number of enemies in Dragon Age, and the real-time style of combat despite the ability to pause, it makes it hard to do this. I do learn with each death who is the most vulnerable in my party, but I do not learn the same about my opponent. I might learn which attacks are more effective from their positioning, but when it comes to the finer details, it is a guessing game, making me take the ham-fisted approach of using the strongest attacks from each party member.

And I’m not going to lie—over the last few weeks, I have felt a bit of cognitive dissonance between my enjoyment of the game and what feels like a consistent criticism of it. I did hear something today though that makes me feel validated. While listening to the newest Co-Optional Podcast at work today (if you haven’t checked it out, please, please do.), the first Dragon Age was brought up with the newest installment in the series being released. Two people—one who had put over one hundred hours into the game, and one who could never get into it—were about to agree that some segments of the game are long-winded. This makes me feel better about these dueling feelings I have where I enjoy the gameplay but am still constantly wishing for a part to be done. All it took for my change of heart this past week was for me to enter a new area. Suddenly my sense of wonder and wanderlust was renewed because my sense of repetition was gone.

Now off to those dwarven caverns to do some of that renewing. Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 12

Did I Do That? Part 12

Note: This post was delayed because I wrote it at work instead of doing bureaucratic things and then forgot to send it to myself. Here it is and expect my regular post later today.

I might have yet to dive into controlling my party member’s AI, but I sure wish I could control the enemy’s.

Let’s say you are a big, bad monster who lives in a dank cavern. You have nothing to do all day but hide random loot in chests and craft your own weapons for self-defense. Why? Because adventuring travelers are constantly wandering through your home hoping to take all of the belongings you safely put in a crate with a pickable lock. So of course you get angry. Who wouldn’t? Then you see them not just in your front yard but in your living room, so you pull out your war axes and crossbows and start defending your property. Unfortunately your intruders have the audacity to come armed and prepped to fight back. Two heavily-armored stocky warrior-types surround you and your family and start swinging at you. How would you react?

A. Lift your shield and protect yourself.
B. Fight back to protect yourself.
C. Run all of the way across your land while you continue to be attacked just so you will hopefully find their healer.

In case you haven’t guessed already, two of these are human reactions, and one is an AI reaction. This is a common case of in an effort to create compelling game mechanics, the AI drifts away from reality. Now this is totally fine. I’m not even fighting humans, so why would I expect them to react as so? Instead these fantasy races must have tactical genius in their genetic coding.

Now the more I come to accept how important strategy is in this game, the more I wish I could analyze enemy AI in the same way I can my own. I have trouble setting my party members’ combat tactics because I am not great at deciding a best overall strategy. What I can do is encounter a battle, die a couple of times, and learn from it. Then I go in and make certain members go on the defensive because of the enemy’s strength. I can make my mage use area-wide spells because the enemies move in groups. I know I need to keep my rogues out of the line of fire because backstabbing is not a viable option. This means that if each enemy race had certain traits and I knew what areas of Ferelden they populated, it would make determining a strategy more feasible for me.

Disclaimer: for all I know, this exists somewhere deep in the game’s Codex or on a forum in the corner of the internet. I might go look after this actually and write about it later. That is if there is anything to report of course.

Stay tuned for my answer or lack there of.

Nostalgia for the Now: Pokemon Art Academy

Nostalgia for the Now: Pokemon Art Academy

I loved to draw growing up. I have an uncanny skill for copying animated pictures almost identically. When I wasn’t sketching replicas of coloring sheets, I was tracing characters out of Dr. Seuss books.

I also loved Pokemon. Before Harry Potter stole a decade of my life and thousands of collective hours, Pokemon was the imaginary world where I spent all of my time. Besides the trading cards, games, and TV show, a friend and I would play pretend. Of course we didn’t exactly do it right. Instead of being the trainers, we would pretend to be the Pokemon and battle each other. We willingly pretended to be an enslaved race of adorable creatures that occasionally self-destruct and breathe fire.

And guess what game recently came out that bring me back to both of these aspects of my childhood and is most likely not meant for my age group?

Pokemon Art Academy!

Stop laughing. Seriously, you, quit it.

My original Pokemon handbook was my favorite source of inspiration. I think I went through three separate ones because I would wear out my reference for the original 150. With my obsessive and detail-oriented personality, I’m surprised I never went through and made my own Pokedex with copied images and text entries. It actually sounds tempting for me to do it now.

But really, cut it out with the laughter.

This is a themed version of the Art Academy games which take advantage of the 3DS technology. In the past games (I got the newest one this summer when it was insanely discounted and I was sick and bored), you learn to use different paints, art styles, and techniques. There are little bits of art history squeezed in between detailed lessons. If it is your kind of game, it is well-executed. If it doesn’t sound interesting to you though, it won’t be. It does what it does well, but it doesn’t wrap up its content in a traditional gaming package.

The Pokemon-themed version translates to this model easily. I’ve only completed a few lessons, but it does a good job of explaining what the different tools you use are for and even include little tidbits of trivia about the Pokemon themselves. After finishing all of the Starter lessons and one of the Novice lessons, I have only used the outline pen and markers. The Zoom function is really helpful for drawing details, but I’m definitely glad I have the XL version. Between this and the Professor Layton games, I am glad to have a bigger working space for the touch screen.

Once you’re done, your drawing gets transposed onto a personalized Pokemon card instead of just saving your drawing.

Despite this game being an obvious piece of fan service, I’m adoring it. Like I said, if it doesn’t sound fun, it probably won’t be, but it’s worth at least a try if you can get your hands on a friend’s copy. Sadly Nintendo didn’t put out a demo for this title even though releasing a free lesson would be the perfect gateway drug. One successful drawing after never being able to create anything artistic before, and you’d be sold.

My main issue is that when drawing, I prefer sketching. I have a shaky hand and like creating a loose figure and then outlining the parts I like. Here when outlining, I trace the image already created for me. This is obviously meant to make sure that the starter and novice lessons are just that. I’m wondering though if my drawings will look better once I can start free-handing. We shall see.

Hopefully you could see this through your tears from giggling too much.

Nostalgia for the Now

Nostalgia for the Now

I loved to draw growing up. I have an uncanny skill for copying animated pictures almost identically. When I wasn’t sketching replicas of coloring sheets, I was tracing characters out of Dr. Seuss books.

I also loved Pokemon. Before Harry Potter stole a decade of my life and thousands of collective hours, Pokemon was the imaginary world where I spent all of my time. Besides the trading cards, games, and TV show, a friend and I would play pretend. Of course we didn’t exactly do it right. Instead of being the trainers, we would pretend to be the Pokemon and battle each other. We willingly pretended to be an enslaved race of adorable creatures that occasionally self-destruct and breathe fire.

And guess what game recently came out that bring me back to both of these aspects of my childhood and is most likely not meant for my age group?

Pokemon Art Academy!

Stop laughing. Seriously, you, quit it.

My original Pokemon handbook was my favorite source of inspiration. I think I went through three separate ones because I would wear out my reference for the original 150. With my obsessive and detail-oriented personality, I’m surprised I never went through and made my own Pokedex with copied images and text entries. It actually sounds tempting for me to do it now.

But really, cut it out with the laughter.

This is a themed version of the Art Academy games which take advantage of the 3DS technology. In the past games (I got the newest one this summer when it was insanely discounted and I was sick and bored), you learn to use different paints, art styles, and techniques. There are little bits of art history squeezed in between detailed lessons. If it is your kind of game, it is well-executed. If it doesn’t sound interesting to you though, it won’t be. It does what it does well, but it doesn’t wrap up its content in a traditional gaming package.

The Pokemon-themed version translates to this model easily. I’ve only completed a few lessons, but it does a good job of explaining what the different tools you use are for and even include little tidbits of trivia about the Pokemon themselves. After finishing all of the Starter lessons and one of the Novice lessons, I have only used the outline pen and markers. The Zoom function is really helpful for drawing details, but I’m definitely glad I have the XL version. Between this and the Professor Layton games, I am glad to have a bigger working space for the touch screen.

Once you’re done, your drawing gets transposed onto a personalized Pokemon card instead of just saving your drawing.

Despite this game being an obvious piece of fan service, I’m adoring it. Like I said, if it doesn’t sound fun, it probably won’t be, but it’s worth at least a try if you can get your hands on a friend’s copy. Sadly Nintendo didn’t put out a demo for this title even though releasing a free lesson would be the perfect gateway drug. One successful drawing after never being able to create anything artistic before, and you’d be sold.

My main issue is that when drawing, I prefer sketching. I have a shaky hand and like creating a loose figure and then outlining the parts I like. Here when outlining, I trace the image already created for me. This is obviously meant to make sure that the starter and novice lessons are just that. I’m wondering though if my drawings will look better once I can start free-handing. We shall see.

Hopefully you could see this through your tears from giggling too much.